by Jennifer Burcke
Brooding a batch of chicks is akin to bringing home a newborn child. No matter how many books you have read or people you have talked to, the best experience you gather will come firsthand. Caring for a tiny living being that counts their lifetime in hours or days instead or years can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Being prepared for brooding success can allow you to focus on the wonder and enjoyment of caring for baby chicks.
While it would be impossible for me, or any single chicken keeper, to share with you the “best” way to brood chicks, I can share what we have done in the past. Our first batch of chicks are now fast approaching their second birthday. They were our first foray into chicken keeping. When we welcomed them to our farm, we were armed only with the knowledge provided by hours of online research and reading.
To begin with, you’ll need to have supplies on hand to effectively brood a batch of baby chicks. Here at 1840 Farm, we gather the following supplies at brooding time:
- Brooding pen with a breathable cover
- Supplemental heat source
- Absorbent bedding
- Chick feeder
- Chick waterer
- Small bowl for grit
- Chick starter feed
- Apple cider vinegar
- Parakeet/small bird grit
- Small branches for perching
- Hand sanitizer
In this post, I’ll discuss the first two items on the list: the brooding pen and heat source. Both items are essential for successful brooding. In both cases, you can use items that are already on hand or readily available at your local feed store. If you prefer, professionally manufactured brooding pens and heat sources with additional features can be used.
When outfitting the storage container to be used as a brooding pen, we realized that we needed some way to cover the top. Baby chicks are very capable flyers. Without a top, we were sure to find the chicks exploring the garage one morning.
We had a framed window screen that was large enough to span the distance between the walls of the container. It was lightweight enough not to endanger the chicks if it fell, but could be secured to the tub using spring clamps in order to keep them safely contained. It was a serviceable cover and also allowed fresh air to flow freely.
In my recent post Two Essential Chicken Keeping Tools: Necessity and Invention, I shared the experience of brooding our most recent batch of chicks this spring. The previously used storage container was unavailable. For over a year, it has been used as our feed storage container to keep our chicken and goat feed safe and dry. Instead of purchasing a new container, we got creative and used an empty leaf sweeper as our brooding pen. It worked effectively and will be called into duty the next time we add baby chicks to our farm.
Before your chicks arrive, you’ll also need to decide how to provide them with the supplemental heat they need during their first several weeks. If they were hatched in a coop, a broody mother hen would keep them at the desired temperature by allowing them to huddle beneath her. If you’re raising chicks in a brooding pen, you will need to provide them with another source of heat.
When our first chicks arrived at 1840 Farm, it was the last week of September. Our brooding pen was placed in an unheated garage next to a workbench. The location provided a safe place to keep our chicks away from predators and ample natural sunlight from a nearby window during daylight hours.
Given the time of year, we didn’t have to be overly concerned about extremely cold temperatures. I knew that our chicks would still require supplemental heat, so I began researching our options. We were new to the world of chickens and while I hoped that we would become lifelong chicken keepers, I didn’t want to make that assumption before they had arrived and made our farm their home.
I made the decision to acquire the necessary equipment without purchasing items that were intended for career chicken keepers. I knew that there were more advanced options for providing heat to baby chicks, but I wasn’t ready to make that leap. Instead, I chose to use a simple heat lamp.
Once I made that decision, it was time to choose which type of bulb to use. I had read several recommendations from experienced chicken keepers that the red heat lamp bulb provided a calmer environment for the baby chicks. The chicks cannot detect the light spectrum emitted from a red bulb, which allows them to have a natural sleep pattern in spite of the light being on 24 hours each day. With this information in hand, I chose to use a red spectrum heat lamp to provide warmth to our baby chicks.
I found that the spring clamp on the heat lamp was weaker than I would have liked. I worried that it might fall and either injure the chicks or overheat them during the night. I had read accounts of fires caused by heat lamps that had come in direct contact with dry bedding. I had also read stories about brooder lamp failures in the middle of the night that left a batch of chicks huddling together for warmth.
If you have used a heat lamp in the past, you know that the amount of heat produced is incredible. In fact, the hood on our heat lamp assembly gets so incredibly hot that I wore a pot holder to adjust its position. My children were warned not to touch it. I had no doubt that it had the capability to ignite a fire if allowed to rest on the pine shavings lining our brooder. Suddenly, it became very clear why chicken keepers who have the ability to keep roosters simply allowed mother hens to do the brooding for them.
I was certain that none of my neighbors would tolerate the sound of roosters crowing early in the morning. I also knew that as a family of chicken keepers who raise chickens but don’t eat them, we didn’t have any need for inviting roosters to live on our farm. I was simply going to have to do the best I could to secure the lamp and hope that we didn’t run into any lamp failures. To increase my odds of success, I bought two red lamps: one to use immediately and one to have on hand just in case I found a burnt out bulb on one of my nighttime chick checks.
I solved the weak clamp issue by attached a carabiner clip to the top of the lamp and then running a piece of twine between it and the top of the clamp. While the light assembly could still fall from its position, I could at least feel confident that it would remain on the clamp safely above the brooding pen.
The light provided ample heat. In fact, it was a lot like having the sun nearby. The entire garage was warming from the lamp. We used a thermometer in the brooding pen to monitor the temperature, moving the light further up the bar on the clamp as needed to reduce the temperature of the brooding pen.
When we decided to add new chicks to our farm this spring, I began looking at other options for warming up the brooding pen. I was fairly certain that we were now lifelong chicken keepers. I couldn’t imagine not having a coop full of hens, or even more unimaginable: buying eggs at the grocery store. My children couldn’t imagine it either, so it was time to see if there was a more effective way for us to provide heat to the baby chicks that would be calling 1840 Farm home for many years to come.
BrinseaEcoGlow 50 exceeded my expectations in every way. In fact, it worked so well that I can guarantee that it will be used the next time we brood chicks in our makeshift leaf sweeper brooding pen. In my next post, I’ll review the BrinseaEcoGlow 50 and share my experience using it to raise our latest batch of heritage breed chicks.
What do you use when brooding baby chicks? I’d love to hear your tips and tricks for ensuring brooding success!